As Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I often lead a group of bipartisan members of Congress on Congressional Delegations (CODEL) overseas to study policies for increasing our homeland security. This year, as we traveled to France, Poland, Estonia, and Ukraine, the overarching topic of discussion was cybersecurity and how to protect America from Putin and his cyber-attacks on the United States.
In Congress, I oversee many of our nation’s cybersecurity efforts and am briefed on current threats every week. It is clear to me our adversaries are turning digital breakthroughs into digital bombs. From Russian and Chinese hacking to brand-name breaches, our cyber rivals are overtaking our defenses. Nation-states are using cyber tools to steal our country’s secrets and to copy our intellectual property, and terrorists are abusing encryption and social media to crowd-source the murder of innocent people. We traveled to the aforementioned countries this year to see how our allies are dealing with these types of attacks.
Our first stop on the CODEL was to Paris, France where we saw the tell-tale signs of Russian interference in France’s presidential elections. While this was occurring, it is important to note that France continues to be keen on ensuring NATO and the EU strike a balance between firmness toward Moscow and keeping the door open to dialogue. To combat the cyber threats, France has set an example for other NATO allies by increasing its defense budget by roughly $1 billion per year between 2016 and 2019. As our oldest ally, it is up to our two great nations to continue to work together to advance awareness of and put an end to cyber aggression.
Next, we traveled to Poland and Estonia – two strong NATO allies. These two countries, just over a generation ago, were under Soviet occupation. Sadly, to this day, they are still subject to Russian aggression in many forms, including cyber misinformation, propaganda, and physical cyber-attacks. Right now our NATO partnerships are more important than ever. In Poland, we discussed security as a fundamental pillar of the U.S.-Poland bilateral relationship and our defense ties have never been stronger, as is evidenced by our participation in Operation Atlantic Resolve. In Estonia, we met with their leadership to learn more about the major Russian cyber-attack that shutdown their country for two days. This is the kind of attack we cannot allow to happen in the United States, and we must learn from them ways to better protect our country from these threats.
Finally, our last stop on the CODEL was Ukraine. This country is the epicenter of the war against Russian aggression and Vladimir Putin. Currently, four million people are under occupation in East Ukraine and Crimea is under the control of Russia. Ukraine is one of the most heavily hit countries by cyber-attacks as each day a countless number of these attacks knock down power grids, financial sectors, and the government itself. In Ukraine, we see the damage that can come when cyber operations are used in concert with a conventional warfare campaign.
The timing of this trip was absolutely critical as Russia continues to wage a cyber-war around the world and engage in military action against our allies. We must continue to work with and support these European nations to combat any and all Russian efforts to destabilize and interfere with them. After standing on the front-lines of Russian aggression and speaking with the leaders of these countries, I came away knowing we need to do all we can to support them, that we can all learn from their past experiences to bolster our own cybersecurity posture and national security, and reaffirms that Putin must be stopped.